Alumni News

Carlos Roberto Jaén, '79, M.S.'82: Building Joyful Practices

February 25, 2014 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09

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Dr. Carlos Roberto Jaén, '79, M.S.'82, identifies strongly with the Vincentian tradition. Growing up in David, Panama, he attended the Vincentian high school where his mother had worked and, after graduation, accepted a scholarship from Rev. Maurice Roche, C.M., to Niagara University. He even keeps an image of St. Vincent at his desk.

So it's no wonder that he has dedicated his life to serving others as a doctor, researcher and professor of family and community medicine.

“Much of what I do in terms of service and imagining new ways of providing healthcare, of making changes for people who need it, are very much resonant of what I learned at Niagara,” he says.

Dr. Jaén's career has taken him from Monteagle Ridge, where he earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in biology; to Buffalo, where he obtained an M.D. and a Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo; to Cleveland, where he completed a residency in family medicine and a fellowship in primary care research; and back to Buffalo, where he was recruited as vice chair of research in the Department of Family Medicine. During his nine years there, he became involved in a community-based needs study of Buffalo's West Side Latino community. The study was instrumental in replacing Columbus Hospital with a long-needed diagnostic and treatment center that houses an array of primary medical services. It also led to the establishment of UB's Center for Urban Research and Primary Care, for which Dr. Jaén served as founding director.

The work was rewarding for Dr. Jaén, and he planned to continue it and live in Buffalo for the entirety of his professional career. However, a phone call inviting him to apply for the position of professor and chair of the Family and Community Medicine Department in the School of Medicine of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio changed all that. After traveling to the school and meeting then-president Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, Dr. Jaén decided to make the move to Texas.

The position enabled him to continue the work he is passionate about ”“ making patient-centered care and community health “more effective, safer and more joyful.” His research on patient-centered medical homes, which provide coordination of care across several medical specialties, incorporate the use of technology and foster personal relationships between patients and care providers, led to a the first large-scale national demonstration project. The results of the project were published in a special supplement of the Annals of Family Medicine in 2010.

It also gives him the opportunity to engage with the next generation of medical professionals and to help them recognize, by example and service, that family medicine is taking care of the patient and their families holistically.

Dr. Jaén has also become known as an international leader in smoking cessation research. His interest in the topic began in graduate school, when he conducted a study of 1,800 smokers for his Ph.D. dissertation. In 1996, he was appointed to a national panel that published smoking cessation guidelines, as well as to the two subsequent panels that published updates. He co-chaired the most recent one. He says that making smoking cessation treatments accessible for people has always been a particular interest of his.

In recognition of his many accomplishments, Dr. Jaén has been selected to the Best Doctors in America yearly since 2002. In 2005, he was appointed to the National Advisory Council to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and serves as chair-elect of the American Board of Family Medicine. He is also the recipient of a Generalist Physician Faculty Scholar Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a Cancer Control Career Development Award for Primary Care Physicians from the American Cancer Society, and holds a Dr. and Mrs. James L. Holly Distinguished Professorship. Niagara recognized him in 2009 with a Dean's Award from the College of Arts and Sciences, and in October of 2013, he was named to the Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

He has never lost sight of what initially drew him to the field of medicine, however ”“ service to the patient. “I am at heart a clinician,” he says.

As a physician, Dr. Jaén is able to put into practice what he advocates: being available to patients when they need him and providing a welcome environment where they are motivated to make the changes they need to become healthier. “A joyful practice, for me,” he says, “is the goal.”

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